A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

‘Restore Election Integrity’ group comes under fire from state, local officials for spreading false info

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

Steve Knipper, a member of the Erlanger City Council seeking re-election this year, is a co-host of a controversial “Restore Election Integrity” tour that preaches the fallibility of public elections.

Knipper, a self-described cybersecurity expert who has lost two bids for the office of Kentucky Secretary of State, does not think Joe Biden fairly won the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump and that too many other elections lack integrity.

But the presentations he has been making about election fraud to crowds for about a year now with Republican state Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Anderson County and Jon Schrock of Tennessee, a field coordinator for the right-wing political advocacy group The John Birch Society, has drawn strong criticism.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, the Kentucky County Clerks’ Association, the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association, the Kentucky County Attorneys Association and members of the State Board of Elections say the tour spews false information and has no specific evidence of any fraud in any election.

His critics protest too much, said Knipper in a telephone interview this week.

“I don’t know why they are protesting us so much,” he said.  “We must really be getting under their skin.”

On their tour, Knipper and his colleagues conduct two-hour meetings for public consumption, usually in the evenings, claiming fraud in elections primarily through hacked voting machines.
Their so-called “Restore Election Integrity” tour began last year with a presentation in Florida to Young Americans for Liberty, a conservative student activism organization based in Austin, Texas, that was formed in 2008 in the aftermath of Ron Paul’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

They also gave presentations last year in Tennessee, Indiana, and throughout Kentucky.

A new version, called “Restore Election Integrity 2.0 Tour,” emerged March 17 in a Bowling Green presentation. In recent weeks, it has appeared in Erlanger at an event attended by about 125 persons hosted by the Boone County Republican Party and at La Grange in Oldham County. An event was scheduled on Thursday night at the Crestwood Baptist Church in Frankfort.

The tour has its critics, basically claiming it lacks integrity.

Secretary of State Michael Adams

A recent letter signed by Adams, a Republican, and the groups that agree with him condemned the tour.

“We write this letter in our capacity as election officials, charged with providing Kentuckians the free and fair elections guaranteed by the Constitution of our Commonwealth,” said the letter.

“We are Democrats and Republicans; we are state officials in Frankfort and local officials across the state; we are full-time elected officials and part-time volunteers.
“Conducting elections has never been an easy task, but it has never been harder than it is today. A lot of work goes into the election process, and numerous safeguards exist at every level. But because voters may not be familiar with these details, others seek to scare them by spreading misinformation. 

“We stand united against election misinformation efforts of the ‘Restore Election Integrity’ tour.”

Adams and his colleagues said the tour organizers “are traveling the state making allegations that are false and that threaten the healthy functioning of our democracy.

“To date, they have provided neither us, nor law enforcement, nor the news media with any evidence of their irresponsible claims. That is understandable – they cannot.”

The tour critics said, “We reassure Kentuckians that our voting machines are not connected to the internet, or each other, and they never have been. Kentucky elections have not been hacked, and anyone who says that is simply wrong.

“The organizers say that with respect to election integrity, ‘It’s the elite versus the real people.’  But we are the real people – the citizens who love Kentucky sufficiently to work long hours, even in the face of occasional physical threats, to run these elections – and we have had enough.  We encourage Kentuckians to accept election information only from legitimate sources.”

Stephen Knipper

Knipper said his group is “not accusing anybody of doing anything bad.  We’re just pointing out problems in elections and the potential for greater harm.”

To Knipper’s thinking, the biggest threat to clean elections is voting machines.

“They can be hacked, they are not as reliable as paper ballots,” he said.

Knipper acknowledged that entire use of paper ballots in elections would slow down the process, especially tabulating results.

“But people need to be reassured their votes are being counted in a correct manner and you could put the ballots in a paper separator,” he said. “The voting machines in use now are open to fraud. I believe they will be hacked someday and we will have to go to paper ballots.”

Knipper said steps to make elections secure are presented in the tour.

He said attendance is free and “no one is making money off this.”

But Michon Lindstrom, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Adams, said the tour’s organizers are charging $2 a ticket to attend the presentations.

She also said state law prohibits legislators from accepting any compensation for an appearance, speech, or article. Sen. Southworth and Knipper worked together in the office of former Lt. Gov. Jeneen Hampton.

Lindstrom referred to an email from the Northern Kentucky Tea Party regarding the Erlanger event that said, “Dear Patriots, If you haven’t already ordered your tickets for today’s Election Integrity Tour, don’t wait another second, do it now. Go to www.restore.vote, tickets are $2.”

If one goes to the website now and clicks on “Order Tickets,” the message says, “Whoops, the page or event you are looking for was not found.”

Knipper said a hacker broke into the website’s invitation system and used messages to lower attendance to the tour presentations.

Lindstrom said, “It’s interesting that Stephen Knipper calls himself a cybersecurity expert, yet claims his site was hacked.

“The premise of his presentation is that he is a cybersecurity expert.  Shouldn’t he have some security in place to prevent hacking?  If the site was hacked, all of Mr. Knipper’s claims of his qualifications have been disproved.”

Lindstrom also noted that Southworth introduced legislation in this year’s General Assembly regarding elections but her “colleagues are no longer given air to her unfounded claims and she has been unable to get a single vote to support her claims.”

Southworth did not vote for two election bills the legislature approved that were supported by Adams. They codified into law the state’s regulations of not connecting voting machines to the internet. Southworth had made false claims about the internet provisions, said Lindstrom.

Knipper does not know how long the tour will continue. “We try to go where we are asked to come,’ he said.

He said there is no truth to speculation that he is using the tour to gain publicity to run again for secretary for state.

“I’d be lying if I told you I have not been asked to run again, but I’m running again for Erlanger council and I may help other people next year who might run for a state office,” he said.

He did not identify anyone, but did say he understands Southworth wants to stay in the Senate.

The Kentucky offices of governor and other state constitutional offices are up for election next year.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment